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County cuts £500,000 from bus budget

BUSservices in Wiltshire will take a £500,000 hit next year despite strong opposition from a huge consultation which saw over 11,000 responses to the council’s cost-cutting plans.

Wiltshire Council last week agreed to cut approximately 10% from its £5.1million public bus subsidies next May.

The council had originally hoped to save £2.5million but over 11,000 people responded to a consultation earlier this year and led the authority to soften its plans.

More service-specific consultations are set to take place in the coming months, but the council is expected to target the more expensive services for which it pays £3.50 or more per passenger.

Local buses subsidised by Wiltshire Council include the 271, 14 town service, X86, 86, and the 68/69 ZigZag, though it is not yet clear which services will be at risk.

Graham Ellis, a Melksham man and campaigner for better public transport in the county, believes the smaller cut is good news and hopes the council is not just prolonging more severe changes.

Graham told Melksham News, “Considering the council wanted to cut £2.5million, this is a very good result. Whether the cuts will be sustainable in the future I don’t know.

“The stakes will be much higher next year when the buses bill has been passed and councillors aren’t worried about local elections coming up. I’m hoping this is not just a stay of execution and that there will be more options available when the bill has gone through.

“The evening and weekend buses are likely to be the ones that are really in danger, even though those are possibly the most appreciated and the cheapest to subsidise. It’ll be easier to cut round the edges outside of normal working hours.

“The consultation had an excellent response and I think that definitely impacted the council’s decision. I expected a lot of people to react – transport is a very important issue and needs a lot of attention.

“Wiltshire Council did a good job of the consultation, too. It wasn’t perfect but it was well publicised and went on for a long time – it was much better than others I’ve seen in Somerset and Dorset.”

Half of the bus mileage in the county is subsidised by Wiltshire Council as it is not commercially viable otherwise. The rest of the services in Wiltshire are operated on a commercial basis by various operators.

As Parliament’s purse strings tighten, councils across the country are making significant cuts to their budgets.

A report from Wiltshire’s corporate director, Carlton Brand, said he believed the decision would mean 97% of currently available journeys would still be possible, and fewer than 1% of the services would be removed.

Dr Brand wrote, “This level of service protection has not been achieved by most other rural counties where we have seen significant reductions of service this year.”

Consultation on the cuts ran from January to April this year, and received 11,093 responses – approximately 2% of the county’s population outside of Swindon.

People were most concerned about the effects on rural, hourly, and town bus services. Evening and Sunday services rated lower on the list of priorities.

Philip Whitehead, cabinet member for transport said, “We had a fantastic response to the consultation. It really showed how much people value their local buses, and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to take part in the consultation.

“The information we had really has helped us, and I’m delighted we are proposing to buck the national trend and safeguard the services people really need.”